Tomorrow is Memorial Day, and today’s column is devoted to a prose poem by my good friend, 1st Lt. Mike Gray. My deep appreciation for permission to publish this special dedication to all those we honor on Memorial Day.
The Silver Boxes
No one told me about the silver boxes!
It was the fall of 1967. I was in Vietnam, stationed in Saigon and assigned to the 69th Signal Battalion at Ton Son Nhut airbase. Having pulled my first Officer of the Day assignment, one of my duties was to police the main gate at 23:00 hours and pick up any late-returning personnel.
But no one warned me about the silver boxes!
I sat in my Jeep with the driver having a cigarette, looking at the Saigon night. The sky all around the perimeter of the city was aglow with flares dropped by aircraft. They would hopefully keep “Charley” from moving about in the night. About 23:15 I saw the headlights and heard the growl of a semi truck and trailer moving parallel to the fence toward the gate. The guards were expecting it and without hesitation swung open the gate to let it through.
And no one asked me if I was ready for the silver boxes!
As the truck labored past us, I saw its load in the glow of the gate’s floodlights. Silver-colored boxes, stacked four high, filled the flatbed truck and the trailer. My mind was a jumble of thoughts and feelings. I silently watched the truck head for the flight line to deposit its cargo.
What is there to say about the silver boxes!
I whispered to my driver, “Is that what I think it is?” “Yeah,” he replied. “The mortuary is right outside the gate. That’s today’s load.”
And then I knew all about the silver boxes!
They were going back to the real world. They left their family to serve, but this is all that was returning. Each box held a story. Mom taking care of you when you had the measles … Christmas morning … playing ball … building forts … hanging out with the guys … going to the prom … getting a driver’s license … sweethearts and wives. There was supposed to be more to the story. Each silver box contained plans and dreams and hopes, but that’s all they would ever be.
PAT GRANT has lived in Glendale for more than 30 years and was formerly a marketing manager for an insurance company. He may be reached at email@example.com.